In my last post regarding competitions I mentioned the importance of feedback and constructive criticism. However I did want to go more in depth into this topic. Especially because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the competitions I’ve taken part in the past few years where judges will not provide feedback following the competition. I’m not sure why this is although I suspect it’s most likely due to, shall we say, vitriolic responses to a loss. While I can understand the desire to avoid such confrontations, as someone who values constructive criticism not being able to have any feedback whatsoever can add even more bitterness to an already disappointing situation.
Interestingly enough, this desire for feedback is apparently very common among my fellow millennials. In a piece in Psychology Today which discussed the millennial generation and their tendency to draw ire from older generations, one of the traits discussed was the constant need for feedback (Ellin, 63). Unfortunately the article noted that this can be seen by others as a bid for attention, a lack of know-how, or simply irritating (Ibid). However, the true motivation of the behavior (which I can certainly attest to as a millennial) comes from a desire to please (Ibid). Ultimately the desire for feedback is simply wanting to know that you’re doing a good job (or if you’re doing a bad job what you can do to improve) as well as a possible desire for mentorship (Ibid).
As an artist I feel that constructive feedback is highly necessary for improvement. After all, if a person doesn’t know that they are doing something wrong they will most likely never improve (and that’s true whether you are talking about the arts, the workplace, relationships, or any number of other topics).
Of course there is the argument that the artist shouldn’t rely on receiving feedback and to an extent I would agree. It’s important for those of us who are artists to have a basic level of confidence in ourselves and our work and enough self knowledge to be able to critique ourselves. Moreover, whatever judgment is cast on an artist’s work, they should consider the source of the feedback and weigh it against what they know about themselves and their work to decide if it is truly important. For instance, I discussed in my last post how I received feedback on my performance in a talent show with differing opinions among the judges. With that feedback I was able to cope with my loss by understanding that the judge who had experience with the music that I performed liked my performance very much while the other judges did not have that same experience so I did not have to take their criticisms to heart.
However I appreciate feedback and constructive criticism because I feel they are given when the person actually does believe in you, your work, and knows that you can improve. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens Sean Covey told a hilarious story about having sing in front of several music students and be critiqued as part of the requirements for private voice lessons (Covey). While a young man who sang a song from Les Miserables (which according to Covey sounded better than the original Broadway production) was critiqued, Covey after an “interesting” performance of “On the Street Where You Live” was simply told “That was great Sean” (Ibid). While the moral of the story is more about Covey overcoming his fear of performing in front of other people, there was a more subtle lesson that I saw as an artist. Even though Covey was shocked at the critiques of what he felt were amazing performances, as a singer I recognized the critiques as being a sign that the other vocal students recognized the talent of their peers and knew that they could improve whereas Covey’s performance met with no criticism because the students probably felt there was very little that could be done to help him progress. With this perspective in mind it can be highly upsetting to not receive feedback. Interestingly one of the best descriptions of why this can be distressing comes from article 5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You by David Wong where he writes
“If you apply for a job, which is worse — a rejection letter, or no reply at all? The former is bad, but the latter is dismissive, and that’s a thousand times worse–like you didn’t even open their resume before tossing it in the trash.”
Ultimately, we will most likely have to take whatever feedback we can and understand that there will be those who are unwilling to give it. However, if I could give any advice to competition judges, I would advise them to allow some form of feedback for the contestants. I’m not saying that a judge should be subjected to vitriol from sore losers but simply talking to a contestant, having a chat later via email or phone, or allowing a performer to review any score sheets and notes would go a long way towards helping an artist (or anyone for that matter) develop more fully and thus could ease the sting that can come with an unsuccessful performance. If you are willing to accept the responsibility to judge a competition then you should be willing to at least provide some form of feedback to those that you pass judgment on.
***Readers: What is your perspective on feedback and its importance to your work? Why do you think judges or others might be reluctant to give feedback? Post in the comments below.
Bibliography and Works Cited
Covey, Sean. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Print.
Ellin, Abby. “The Beat (Up) Generation.” Psychology Today Mar.-Apr. 2014: 56-63. Print.
Wong, David. “5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You.” Cracked.com. N.p., 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-youre-accidentally-making-everyone-hate-you/>.